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Haze Dialogue 2010: Paying locals to protect forests may help end haze [Straits Times, 28 Oct 2010]

Updated On: Oct 28, 2010

This article, by Jessica Cheam, appeared in the Straits Times on 28 October 2010

WET and cool weather may have granted Singapore a reprieve from the haze for now, but the issue remained a hot topic at a dialogue session yesterday.

Who is responsible and what needs to be done to fix the recurring problem were debated at the discussion organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA).

The focus should be on seeking the right solutions and incentives to tackle the problem, said SIIA chairman Simon Tay.

Singapore's collaboration with Jambi province, a fire-prone area in Indonesia's Sumatra, has helped to reduce hot spot activity from 2006, he pointed out.

'This is a model that can be scaled up and applied to other provinces prone to hot spots.'

The recent bout of haze was caused mainly by fires in Riau, another province in Sumatra.

The SIIA dialogue was attended by about 20 leading local environmentalists, private sector leaders and academics.

The topic of responsibility was a controversial one, said Mr Tay after the meeting.

Non-governmental organisations say pressure should be put on those who own land where hot spots occur.

But private companies say it is sometimes difficult to police the land due to its vast size.

Instead of pointing fingers, efforts could be focused on initiatives such as the Redd (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries) scheme, which gives funding for forest protection.

Indonesia, for instance, has agreed to place a two-year moratorium on new concessions to clear natural forests and peatlands under a deal signed with Norway earlier this year.

Carbon Conservation chief executive Dorjee Sun, who was at the dialogue, said neighbouring countries or developed nations could set up a fund that pays local communities to protect their land instead of slashing and burning them for their livelihood.

'There are challenges in implementing this but it's a new idea that could really work,' he said.

Separately, Indonesian official Heru Prasetyo of the President's Delivery Unit told The Straits Times on the sidelines of an industry event that Indonesia was looking into Redd to tackle the haze.

'Redd would attach a higher value to the land and provide a better living for the people. So the pressure to burn the trees is less,' he said.

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